Mountain Jewel Goes to Baker Creek

Uncategorized

This past weekend was the annual Baker Creek spring planting festival and it happened to be our first outreach/vending event. We put a lot into it and wanted to share a little of our experience.

Baker Creek is a large heirloom seed company that began as a Jere Gettle’s passion for gardening and has since grown into a well-known company that ships rare and heirloom seeds worldwide.

Every year 10 000 people attend the festival in Mansfield MO (an hour away from us) to connect around all things gardening and Earth based. We were honored to have a booth as part of the Rural Renaissance tent, a group focused on local community and permaculture.

We both knew this was going to be a big event, and we did all we could to prepare for it.

Everything from preparing plants for sale, designing and printing business cards, making signs and informational material and getting ready for sales. We formed a of lot of new paths and our next event wont be quite so much ground work. This was the first time we’d show up in public sphere in a big way and we wanted to represent what we’re all about; a perennial Earth based lifestyle.

Plant rack of berries, lavender and goldenseal for sale.

More than selling items, this event was all about outreach.

We made some great connections and gained insights into where people’s interests lie and what direction to head. We were offering a number of Rubus species, goldenseal plants, tinctures, books, worm kits and germinated paw paw seeds. There was A LOT of talking and it took us a few days to recover.

Mountain Jewel has been waiting to be born in both of us for quite a while.

The past few years we have been focused on establishing our homestead infrastructure, but now another layer is unfolding. This represents a phase where we touch the lives of others through connection, inspiration and empowerment.

We believe in what we’re doing and we want to share that with others. The vision for a bioregional permaculture nursery is in the nascent stages and we are starting to gather interest for educational and community involvement opportunities for this year’s straw bale house build.

Ini giving a talk on Sprouting

What this event shows us is the importance of showing up. We were unsure weather we were prepared enough, but soon realized that we had been preparing for this for years. Every work exchange opportunity, workshop, book, experiment and curiosity led us to this place. We have a true passion and desire to share the benefits of permaculture and living in connection with the earth.

Rural Renaissance Community members placing their locations within the Ozark Bioregion map

We were well received and had some very supportive responses.

Overall the event was a success and after recovering we are looking forward to future events including workshops and work parties on our land! We’re all in it together and it’s at events like this where we can come together and really feel that. We extend our gratitude to all of the organizers who made this event possible 🙂

David Haenke talking about putting the eco back in economics.

Wider Circles – Community Connections & Remembering the Journey Here

Uncategorized

Last night Ini and I walked around the homestead and I’m not sure what it was, but we started saying Remember when…

Prepping signage and plants to bring with us to the festival

Remember when..

This was just a scrubby field with a huge oak and hickory in it?
When our neighbor came up one time with his discer and we walked behind it picking up rocks (which did nothing…) When you got naked and started pulling out what we thought was poison ivy, but ended up being aromatic sumac and I screamed when it touched your butt.

Remember that winter we slept outside when we came back after traveling and our yurt was moldy.. How we started off without power and carried water up the hill from our spring…

When we were just talking about getting a high tunnel.. starting a pond.. building the solar shed. Remember year after year when we dug beds and half of the soil was rocks..

Remember when we met at OUR ecovillage and sat by a fire one night realizing how closely our dreams aligned and decided to try it together…

All of the hard work, literal blood, sweat and tears that have gone into this…

Wider Circles

It’s all coming together in another turning of the revolution as we reach out into the community to share ourselves and some of the fruitions of the homestead.

send ya straight to our instagram!
I got a stamp! Business cards

In making the final preparations to vend this weekend, we’re seeing just how much we’ve set into motion and how we can bridge with the community. It’s extraordinarily exciting!

Thanks for being a part of the journey!

Artificial “Asimina-lation”: Pollinating the Paw Paw, N. America’s Largest Fruit

Uncategorized

As the redbud blossoms fade and dogwood flowers makes their appearance, the mighty paw paw flowers waltz their way to center stage in the Ozark woodlands.

These luscious drooping maroon blossoms are sultry in their demeanor, but yet perhaps a little shy…

The paw paw has fast become a very dear tree to us, and we’re excited to get a little more intimate with some specimens this spring.

Immature Paw Paw Flower on the left, Mature on the right

Almost all fruit needs to pollinated to set fruit.

There are a few exceptions such as certain persimmons, which can set fruit parthenocarpically which results in seedless fruit. The same can be said about seedless watermelons. All other fruit require male and female sex organs to intermingle in order to produce fruit. While some trees are self-fertile (meaning one tree can pollinate itself), others require cross-pollination.

Generally fruits are either wind or insect pollinated.

The scope of fruit pollination is far beyond this article. Paw paws (Asimina triloba) are pollinated by insects and often need a little help with setting fruit. Being pollinated by flies and carrion beetles and having female organs that are receptive before the male organs shed pollen, proper pollination (and therefore fruit set) can be tricky.

Some old timers swear by hanging rotting meat to attract pollinators, but hand pollination seems like a more savory choice for most.

The paw paw flowers are known as perfect; meaning they contain both male and female reproductive parts.

The stigma (receptive female part) matures before the male anthers shed its pollen. Here lies the conundrum. To make things even more nuanced, the pollen must almost always (there are some exceptions) come from a different genetic source to ensure proper pollination. This is where is gets a bit frisky.

Today we are harvesting some paw paw pollen from the flowers of several different trees. Paw paws fruit best if cross-pollinated, that is by receiving pollen from another tree. It is recommended to plant at least 3 varieties for proper pollination, so we will be roaming the woods near us and collecting pollen in hopes of increasing fruit set on wild paw paws on our land. Our cultivated varieties have only 1 or two flowers so far.

Our goal is to transfer the male pollen to a clean and dry container and then transfer it to the female stigma. The pollen is ripe when the ball of anthers is brownish and sheds readily. The stigma is ready when the tips of the pistil are green, sticky and glossy. At this time the anthers ball is firm and light yellow to greenish in color.

Once we have collected enough pollen we will use a delicate brush and simply apply pollen to receptive stigmas.

This is a delicate task, but one that we feel is well worth the effort. For a tree that has few to no pests, does not require pruning in almost all cases and produces such a wonderful fruit, hand pollination seems a small price to pay.

Many of the larger scale growers, including the Kentucky State research facility report that pollination isn’t a problem.

Perhaps this is due to the large volume of flowers that creates a habitat for pollinators. The head of the KSU paw paw research team Sheri Crabtree, says that while hand pollination is the best option for optimum fruit set (as opposed to hanging rotting meat), she and her team say it isn’t needed in their paw paw test plots and orchards.

Playing sexy time with trees is fun, and hopefully will pay off in the form of scrumptious fruits in late summer. Artificial “asimina-lation” is a great way to connect with nature in a productive and intimate way.

Sources:

Paw Paw Fruit Facts

PAWPAW – A “TROPICAL” FRUIT FOR TEMPERATE CLIMATES

Planting Trees as the Climate Changes: No Backyard Is Too Small

Uncategorized

I’ve continued my research into the effects of climate change around the world. After avoiding it for many years – or just not focusing on or looking into the details – I’ve started to face it head on.

It feels like a brave thing to do. The next book I want to get at the library is about all of the reasons why humans avoid taking in information – or indeed doing anything about it – regarding climate change. There are a host of psychological response mechanisms, I’m sure, but I’ll let you know when I read it what I find informative. Currently I’m reading a book by Jeff Nesbit called This Is The Way The World Ends: How Droughts and Die-offs, Heat Waves and Hurricanes are Converging on America. I have to say, having all of this information in one place is shocking, but again I must look and so I am keeping my courage in the face of it all.

Our Red Gem Goumi plants are flowering this spring! A hardy perennial nitrogen fixing shrub with nutritionally rich berries.

One thing that is repeatedly coming to mind as I read about farmers facing drought and desertification all over the globe is how to make a resilient agricultural system. We all need to eat and it is my feeling that Food and Water, two of the human mainstays, will be the limiting factors as the effects of climate change increase around the world.

We’ve written extensively about perennial agriculture and our reasons for choosing this form of land cultivation. You can read some of our dense articles here.

Why We’ve Chosen Perennial Agriculture
A Case for Edible Landscaping with Perennial Plants | 3 Plant Profiles
The Gardens @mountainjewel | Permaculture Design Process
Grow Food Not Lawns: A Vision for Suburban America

In writing this article, I want to reiterate and restate a few of these ideas through an invigorated lens of heavy reading into current and possible effects of climate change.

Climate change in the Sahel

In the book mentioned above, one of the chapters focuses on the Sahel, the arid savanna that runs along the southern border of the Sahara Desert. It spans Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Cameroon, Central African Republic, and Ethiopia and has acted as a buffer to the harsh realities of the desert. However, in recent years, farmers have found earlier springs, drought and extreme periods of rainfall leading to water scarcity and destructive weather events, negative effects of land overuse which is all denuding the land making it difficult to grow anything.

People are worried that the Sahara is encroaching upon the Sahel, but in reality it just appears that way. It is the Sahel that is turning desert-like. Leaders of the World Bank, the government of France and others met at the Paris Climate Accord in December 2015 and came upon a “solution” for this and that was to build a Great Green Wall. It was basically plan to plant millions of trees the first years to create a living wall of trees to stop the desertification. Sadly, though not surprisingly, over 3/4 of these trees died within the first two months. China also tried a similar thing and had the same results.

Fast forward to what actually is working in the region and we find an indigenous solution.

They have found that farmers were allowing tree seedlings that were growing naturally to grow up near their plants and that these farmers encouraged meager rain that fell to puddle near the trees by digging a hole near the base of the tree.

When viewed from the sky, these patches of farms look like swaths of green. What the large institutions and governments could not figure out from a “top down” solution, the farmers were already naturally doing. They’ve switched the Great Green Wall initiative to be this simple yet effective act of the indigenous farmers: allow the tree seedlings to grow, nurture them alongside your farm crops and build up the wall of green slowly and naturally. I know it wont happen this way, but I think all of the funding should go to these small farmers.

I think the world should pay direct attention to this reality in the Sahel right now. With rising air and ocean temperatures, melting Arctic ice, and climate change happening the world round, we are all going to be called upon to adapt in some way. As I study the climate changes, that is the thing that keeps coming to mind again and again.

Climate Change implies that adaptation is key.

The hitch is that though it is the nature of life on earth to adapt, can we do it quickly enough? For that is what we’re seeing – the earth has always been and always will be in a state of flux and all of the creatures here have survived through evolving, but at times and for certain species that can take generations. We may not have generations. For the worldwide coral reefs dying as a result of rising ocean surface water temps, they certainly cannot adapt that quickly. Neither can many of the ocean creatures faced with acidification of their waters.

It is our role now as humans to look forward and see what we need to put in place now to be as adaptable as possible. To me this looks like creating resilient food systems (and knowing where my water comes from and “catching” it on my landscape- but that’s another article entirely.)

Juneberry (Regent variety) in bloom this month

As far as food is concerned, anyone can see that a plant that has roots and comes again each season (a perennial) is more resilient than a seed sowed into the soil each season (an annual) subject to the whims of the current alchemy of sun, water, temps, etc. A perennial is hardy and has worked on growing its root system year after year. It seems intuitive to have as many of these around bearing food as possible in the event of a shaky and unpredictable climate.

The farmers in the Sahel are facing an emergency situation right now and it is said that desertication, the process of an ecosystem turning into a desert, is possible along the entire Midwest portion of the United States within the next 100 years.

Whether for my lifetime or generations to follow after me, I ask myself, What are the things I can set in motion now that may be beneficial in the event of increased drought, rising temperatures and longer summers?

Lambsquarter, a hardy nutritionally dense “weed” grows even in the heat of summer. A relative of quinoa, this plant feeds us when the rest of the salad greens balk at the heat.

My answer is to plant fruit & nut trees (as native and locally hardy as possible), grow perennial roots, find the species that are hardy as hell and that love to grow in the heat (like sweet potatoes, lambsquarter, purslane and others) and get these seed banks established in the soil on my land and start growing these crops now. In the event of desertification, perhaps all of our handiwork will not be able to survive as well, but a tree that is 10-20 years old will have a better chance than one we are planting during the crisis.

37.5 million out of 50 million trees died when planted in the 11 northern Nigeria states worst effected by desertification (pg 62 of This Is How The World Ends).  

Now is the time to start planting edible landscapes and resilient ecosystems.

Annual agriculture, and especially the warlike way it is done by big agribusiness, is not a sustainable or resilient model. While it may have more returns in the short turn, we’re shooting ourselves and future generations in the foot if we believe it will take care of us in the future. We need to start thinking about and acting upon the future. And in the event that much of this horror show that is climate change can somehow “be turned around”, that much the better for us as we’ll have mature edible landscapes to harvest from in abundance! Sounds like a great vision to me!

Just as the farmers of the Sahel couldn’t rely on the “powers that be” to make the change for them, we too must rely on indigenous and small and local solutions. The building of resilient ecosystems really is in our hands – no back yard is to small so get planting!!!!!!

Eating the Forest: An Intro to Mushroom Log Cultivation

Uncategorized
A finished mushroom log complete with a hole filled with mushroom spawn & covered in a protective wax

This spring we’re back at mushroom cultivation. We took last year off but we simply had to plug more logs this year. For us the cultivation of edible and medicinal fungi represents one of the most viable and sustainable ventures on our homestead. By harvesting trees that do not present the healthiest of traits (crooked, weak or overcrowded) we are in fact favoring the overall succession of a resilient and balanced ecosystem. In doing so, we also get the chance to turn that biomass into feedstock for delicious mushrooms.

The mycoscape of any ecosystem is infinitely fascinating and diverse. There are many levels of intensity ranging from foraging wild fungi to cultivating in highly regulated environments. Log cultivation lies somewhere in the middle.

By harvesting dormant trees, we are ensuring maximum food availability for our preferred species of fungi, in this case nameko and shitake. When trees are actively growing much of the energy is allocated to growing leaves and fruit if applicable. Dormancy represents a time of rest and concentration of resources for the trees, which is a perfect time to extract dense stores of energy.

White Oak Logs for Shiitake

Preparing for winter means storing up the resources that were used for photosynthesis during the busy summer months.

Trees synthesize sugars from sunlight and water and store them in their cell. These carbohydrates are what we’re after as mushroom cultivators as we’re looking to turn them into mushrooms.  From the time of leaf drop (autumn) to bud break (spring) is an ideal time to harvest most species for log cultivation.

Fungi has a unique and amazing ability to digest difficult to process substances such as cellulose and lignans produced by trees. Using external sets of “teeth” to digest their food, mushroom exude enzymes and other compounds to break down complex carbohydrates in order to make them digestible. In the greater scope of things this has remarkable implications, enabling ecosystems to cycle nutrients efficiently. For us this means we can capitalize on this miracle and turn wood into highly nutritious fungi.

We are honored to steward 15 acres of woodland. Within this land, there are many crooked or densely spaced trees or ones that need to be thinned to open up areas for higher productivity. This year that means cutting abundant oaks in favor full sun exposure to our forest garden site. We have planted a diversity of food producing treea that yield best given full sun including apples, Asian pears, European peas, paw paws, chestnuts and many others. Bringing this area in production means taking out some of the wild species and creating the disturbance needed to aid in the succession of an edible forest garden. In doing so there is the added bonus of many trees that can be used for lumber, firewood or mushroom cultivation.

Tools of the trade.

Which logs suited to mushroom cultivation depends on the species and condition of wood and well as species of mushroom.

In general most cultivated mushrooms prefer deciduous trees (hardwoods). The most commonly log cultivated mushrooms are shitakes, but there exists a wide range of options depending of tree species available and climate. Even within shitakes there exists a wide-ranging diversity of strains. Some favor cooler conditions for fruiting while others prefer hotter. This year we have chosen a wide range fruiting shitake called Beltane as well as truing nameko mushrooms for the first time.

The basics of any log cultivation are the same: cut while dormant, allow a short rest period, inoculate, run and fruit. Sounds simple enough but there is a lot to consider.


Any trees that you may plan to inoculate should be healthy and disease free. Any compromise may lead to complications later on. We choose trees that don’t present ideal characteristics such as straight growth, symmetrical branching patterns and overall vigor. In doing se we are favoring a more resilient ecosystem by culling out undesirable traits. We don’t want to inoculate any diseased trees as the goal of mushroom cultivation is to select to colonizing organism, not compete with existing species.

Angle Grinder Drill bit makes the task of drilling uniform holes in the logs quick & enjoyable

Each species of mushrooms had its preferred food, but many are adaptable. Take for example the two species we are working with this year; shitakes tend to favor oaks, and nameko prefer cherry (but also will yield on mulberry and hackberry). Nothing is hard and fast, but years of human experimentation narrowed things down.  It’s best to properly identify and mark trees the season before (with the aid of leaf and possibly fruits) that may be ideal for harvesting for mushroom logs.

Mushroom logs for most applications should be easy to handle, yet large enough to maintain optimum moisture levels and present an appropriate ratio of heartwood to sapwood. This is commonly found in logs 30-40” in length and 4-8” in diameter. Anything larger and it’s simply too large and heavy to handle comfortably. I pushed the upper limits the first year we plugged logs and regret having to handle such large logs.

Once you’re selected the logs, it’s best to harvest them and plan for the logs to rest for 2-8 weeks (sources don’t seem to agree on exact timing). This allows any anti-fungal compounds present in the tree to dissipate before attempting to introduce a desired mushroom species. You can’t wait too long or other competing organism may gain a foothold.

The holes.

There are many ways to inoculate logs, but the most economical method is using sawdust spawn. This does require some specialized tools, but it by far the most efficient method for the small to large-scale cultivator.

Using an attachment for an angle grinder (battery power makes things easier), holes are drilled every 6” within the row and 2” between rows on the logs. These holes are then filled with sawdust spawn with a specialized tool designed and built for this purpose. Finally the spawn is sealed with wax to retain ideal moisture level and exclude competing organisms.

While drilling holes, start melting the cheese wax. We used a double boiler system.
This handy tool makes plugging the spawn easy. Here our friend Michelle fills the holes.

The logs are then set-aside in a shady location to allow for colonization (6-18 months depending of species). The key here is maintaining proper moisture and temperature.

Inoculating in spring assures that temperature will be above freezing and favor mycelia growth. There are many methods and techniques for achieving this and descriptions are beyond the scope of this article. Once colonized, the logs are moved into different location and/or configuration that favors fruiting.

Michelle & I plugging and waxing the holes.

Log cultivation does not require the sterilization of substrate as some other mushroom cultivation methods do, but does require using common sense and a basic understanding of the mushroom reproduction cycle. It is a lower tech method than many mushroom cultivation methods and suits our land and lifestyle well. It offers us a way to cultivate mushroom with relatively low input and investment.

When we are plugging logs, what we’re after is swift and effective colonization of logs with the desired species. We harvest the fungal food (trees) at an opportune time, introduce the desired species, provide ideal condition for mycelia reproduction and set in motion the conversion of wood into mushrooms.

All of the holes filled! The last step is the first picture of the article which includes waxing the holes to protect them from insects, birds and other organisms.

To keep things simple, what we’re after is harvesting healthy trees (but not high valuable timber such a saw or veneer logs) in an effort to improve the health of the forest and convert these thinning into nutritious, delicious and edible fungi. We’re allying with the natural and magnificent functions of mushrooms, and in doing so are converting wood into medicinal food.

Permaculture Plants for Water Gardens (Zone 6b Ozarks)

Uncategorized
American Lotus (image source)

Many of you have followed our journey in making a pocket pond within our food forest. A pocket pond is a term for a little body of water tucked into the landscape bringing in all of the goodness water features do!

Here are 3 previous posts on the process. Cool to see what we’ve made from a hole in the ground!

Pocket Ponds In the Homestead Food Forest
Looks Like A Pond! Concrete Liner Finished
DIY Pocket Pond: Catching Water on the Homestead

The space has gone from this:

Beginning of digging the hole for the pond

To this:

Pond after we laid chicken wire inside and began the cement work

To this:

Pond is 3 ft deep in the deepest area, and is 7 x 10 ft roughly in a kidney bean shape. It has a water shelf that is 1.5 ft deep and I was thinking I could put cinder blocks in the deepest part of the pond to act as a plant stand for the floating plants. 

Now that spring is nearly here we’ve finished the body of the pond and have planted out the berm, it is time to find some plants for the pond!

The Berm & Surrounding Food Forest

One of the most delicious things about this pond is that it nestles right in the middle of some pretty rich biodiversity and will provide habitat and water for pollinators, frogs, other winged ones and other creatures! As it’s winter, I don’t have any stellar photos to show. Right now it looks just like a bunch of mulch with a few sticks poking out of the ground, but rest assured that it will be amazing & fruitful with each year’s growth!

Pond with a view of the Solar Shed. On the other side of the pond is the food forest.

As I detailed in a post I put on permies.com,

I also sowed echinacea, our native wild skullcap, agastache, clover and we planted a lingonberry in the berm.

Concerning the food forest,

Aronias and wild false indigo are in a hedge to the north of the pond and the food forest mentioned earlier is to the northwest. It has a paw paw, asparagus, hazelnuts, blueberries, agastache, currants, serviceberries, mulberries, apple, nettle, yaupon, walking onion and strawberries. to the west we have raspberries, lavender, wild false indigo

In the post I mentioned that I was looking to trade thornless blackberries (Chester, Triple Crown), boysenberries, Jerusalem Artichokes, Heritage Raspberries, loganberries for awesome permaculture pond plants! I am currently trading someone thornless blackberries for Chinese water chestnuts and Louisana Iris – awesome!!! Do you have some pond plants you’d like to trade for the plants I’ve listed above? If so, contact me!

Our cats and dog love drinking from the pond. The gently and varied sloping sides allow them to perch there and also provide the gradual sloped needed by frogs.

Permaculture Pond Plants

Along with those two plants, I have my sights on a few others. I have been doing some research and will distill some of the information here.

Image source: Virginia Cooperative Extension article, Urban Water-Quality Management: Purchasing Aquatic Plants. ID 426-044

I found a great resource in Deep Green Permaculture’s Building a Small Water Garden.

As seen in the diagram above, there are varying levels and functions of pond plants. Plants I am focusing on getting from each category are:

  • Rooted floating plants like the Water lily or American lotus.
  • Submerged (Oxygenating) plants like the Coontail aka Hornwort.
  • Floating plants like fairy moss (azolla) or water hyacinth
  • Marginal plants like Aquatic mint, chinese water chestnut, cattail, Louisiana Iris and others.

From all of my research, these are the plants I’m going to focus on getting to start. Below I’ll walk through some of the reasons I’ve focused on these plants out of the sea of plants that fill each of these categories! If you’re looking for a larger list, the website I linked above is a great place to start.

A good rule of thumb also from the site above:

For coverage of the water’s surface:

  • One third to one-half of the water’s surface should be covered with free floating and rooted floating plants. 
  • Or, conversely, no more than half of the water’s surface should ever be covered with floating plants

Water Lily

I am choosing the water lily (Nymphaeaceae) because I’ve always thought they are so beautiful! There are also many frost hardy varieties and that’s important to me when choosing plants. I want plants that aren’t picky and will thrive without my doing a lot and that will come back year after year. There is a float in a local river where I spied some water lily and I may go there to get some for my pond.

American Water Lotus

I am excited about the American Water Lotus (Nelumbo lutea), also known as Macoupin by Miami-Illinois Native Americans, is a native water plant with a laudable edible tuber! The seeds are also edible and known as “alligator corn” – with 2 edible parts and beauty, hardiness and lotus flowers this one is really a no-brainer. I have long wanted to grow and be around this plant!

Coontail

I chose the Coontail as I think I spotted it in a local spring so it will be very easy to get and will be hardy in our area. If possible, I want to get plants that are native to the area because they’re guaranteed to be adapted. This plant oxygenates the water while providing nice cover and food for fish.

Azolla

Azolla is a plant I did a lot of research on yesterday and I find myself increasingly excited by it! Many people may be more familiar with another surface plant, duckweed, that is used for fast growing animal fodder or an easy to grow biofertiliser. Azolla seems to be getting more popular and I was happy to learn more about it. I’ve known people who grow duckweed and I haven’t heard things that make me want to grow it! Azolla, on the other hand, has some fascinating characteristics and is also a popular fast growing fodder and biofertiliser.

You can see why they call it water fern (image source)

Check out this awesome info from Satavic Farms:

Azolla is a free-floating water fern that fixes nitrogen in association with a specific species of cyanobacteria. Azolla is a renewable biofertiliser and can be mass-produced on the farm like blue-green algae. It is a good source of nitrogen and on decomposition, a source of various micronutrients as well. Its ability to multiply fast means it can stifle and control weeds in (flooded) rice fields. Azolla is also used as a green manure and a high-quality feed for cattle and poultry.


This news about its “association with a specific species of cyanobacteria” is what really perked my ears because it turns out azolla, over millions of years, has developed a symbiotic relationship with this bacteria (a type of algae) and fixes nitrogen as an offshoot of their relationship! So I get rid of algae in my pond and get a nitrogen rich prolific water fern out of the deal? I’m in! Let’s see how this goes, but if it is prolific, I’ll be able to skim it off the top of the water if it gets too excessive and compost it or feed it to our earthworms (it makes great earthworm food!)

Water Hyacinth

I will foremost caution that in many places this plant has the potential to become seriously invasive! With our hard frosts, it’s not a worry in our zone 6b in Missouri, but you should be aware of this and be careful about “disposing” of it in local waterways in your area.

This plant is prolific! It has a lovely purple flower and floats on top of the water with a little balloon like sack. It purifies the water while being beautiful- a winner! It can also be used a biofertilizer or animal fodder.

Chinese Water Chestnut

Lastly I will talk a bit about this plant. I have heard that the fresh taste of one of these is nothing like the canned ones most of us have tried!

(image source)

A tropical/sub-tropical sedge (like a grass with a long green stalk), the Chinese water chestnut produces a delicious corm that spreads and expands each year! This one, as with other marginal plants, needs to be grown in a bit of “muck” or a shallow bed of soil and I made the shelf for just this thing. We may also put some of these into a bathtub with shallow soil and water and see if we can propagate a lot of them. You can find more info here.

As you can see I am totally excited about these water plants and I’ve had so much fun learning about this whole new world of water gardening. The sky is the limit and I can’t wait to see how this area fills out and becomes so lively!!!

What are some favorite water plants that you’ve cultivated or are must-haves in your pond/future pond?

Hold Fast to your Dreams: Inevitable Hypocrisy & Doing my Work in the World

Uncategorized

As you know, dear readers, my thoughts of late have often been drifting toward climate change. An offshoot of that is that I ask myself, I ask We the People, What can be done? This isn’t a new question for any of us. My generation has grown up with disastrous statistics of the earth’s slow and quicker forms of degradation, yet increasingly we are reaching a critical mass. Change doesn’t need to happen by 2050, it needs to happen by 2030.

When I started studying Permaculture and having divergent thoughts about society, politics as usual and culture, my dad and I butted heads a lot. I remember him often cajoling me that I was a hypocrite because I drove a car, I consumed, I used electricity based on coal. I was nothing but an idealist. For many years I let this voice guide me and I acted against it as a counterbalance. Fine, I said, I will try to be as pure as I can.

For a couple of years I didn’t own a car and when I lived in the outskirts of Los Angeles, I biked everywhere and when I couldn’t bike, I took public transit and had a small moped I buzzed around on. This worked, for a while, but the toll it took on my physical body was too great. I also ended up waiting a lot and it caused me to be inefficient with my time. The 12 mile commute on my moped to massage school was brutal in the pre dawn cold and I would show up with frozen hands – not ideal for massage! When I took the bus, the circuitous route and many bus changes meant that my commute took around 2 hours. Yet most of all, my body became tired. My lower back started to hurt frequently and I had signs of adrenal fatigue. I wasn’t a climate superhero, I was a human who was burning herself out. How could I balance my ideals with my situation?

Our system simply isn’t built (in most places) for people to lessen their use of fossil fuels. Yet for those of us who feel acutely the pain that comes as a biproduct of living with open eyes and seeing the exploitation and theft, what can we do? We witness Amazonian communities where big companies come in for oil and to deforest, raping women, destroying communities and polluting water and land – all for more oil, more timber. How can we continue along as if nothing has changed when we see increasingly that it is getting more and more difficult to extract oil from our earth’s cavities with greater environmental and social cost and pollution? To drive and continue guzzling gas seems heartless and cruel, yet most of us continue to do so out of necessity. Though we care, we are inevitable hypocrites.

Somewhere around this time, while on a soul searching bike tour where I visited many intentional communities of people seeking to live out a visionary sustainable shift, I met Ini. We hitch hiked around and finally bought a car that ran on veggie oil. This seemed like a great alternative, although far from a perfect solution. Emblazoned with the good vibes of driving on a waste resource, we watched YouTube videos of farmers growing fields of sunflowers and processing the oil themselves to make veggie oil or biodiesel. Hopeful and passionate, we wondered why this wasn’t a larger movement. News has always been out that “the government” (or some hidden large power) has the plans for incredibly fuel-efficient cars, but that they’re hiding it from the public to serve big oil interests. I envisioned fields of sunflowers grown for alternative fuel use and veggie oil stations popping up all over the United States.

As we went around looking for veggie oil we could strain and process to use in our car, I realized that most people don’t have the psychic or physical energy, let alone time, to endeavor such a thing. If it’s not immediately economical for people, it often doesn’t get done. Isn’t that so often the bottom line? Time, energy and money? In lieu of prioritizing ecological action, the necessity of capitalism entangles all of our actions. It’s how we are bread to think and behave. Usually we don’t choose jobs or lifestyles based on true passion, but because they’re economically stable or lucrative. We need to change the bottom line, but how? We all have to eat and wouldn’t a little security later in life be nice?

These days as the next guard of politicians are coming into office, we are faced with a wave of butting heads. Like my dad, a seasoned “old guard” of his generation, laughed in the face of my idealism, many “old timers” see the new politicians and their visions as ludicrous. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is one who is daring to dream big and head up the Green New Deal. Shortly after it came out, she was heavily criticized for using car transportation (ostensibly instead of always using public transit- do they know how much longer that takes and how many stops simply aren’t on routes?) and because other aspects of her campaign weren’t ecofriendly. What a hypocrite, they said, She wants to implement a Green New Deal and she’s not even green!

Her rebuttal was key because it’s the world we all live in unless we want to be radical variants like the man who lives without using any money. She’s trying to get things done quickly and efficiently within the system she is trying to change. We all live within this system that causes pain and suffering, usually offloading it to developing countries by extracting their resources, polluting their environments and by damaging their communities. Out of sight out of mind. If you are sensitive like me, however, it doesn’t matter whether the pain is caused in your backyard or in a perpetually disenfranchised population states away like the Indigenous people of the United States who face many crimes at the hands of our government, not least of which is continually broken promises and treaties.

The fact is that we are all connected, we are interconnected, and pain and exploitation somewhere is connected to us all, especially if we are living comfortably as a result of another community’s exploitation.

With all of these thoughts lately, I’ve wondered if the actions of those people who are trying to make steps toward a more sustainable life really matter. Specifically, do my actions matter? As @geke so pointedly publishes each day, the military is shelling out billions of dollars per day and it’s depressing and frustrating to think of where that money is going.

In the face of a global war machine, polluting corporations impervious to checks and balances, and industrial “civilization” that eclipses individual action, do my actions even make a difference?

I brought this up with a friend who came over last night. She insisted that our actions do indeed matter and gave Paul Stamets as an example. Stamets is the leading researcher on mushrooms and how they can save the world. His research includes using mushrooms to purify contaminated water, clean up toxins in the environment, as well as heal the human body. His work is groundbreaking and inspiring and he is a driving force for good action in our world. He is someone we can look to and feel that our individual actions do matter, that by following our passions we can find the balms to heal the wounds of our world. After she said that, I realized that she was right. Individual change, paired with key policy shifts and pressure on large corporations to be held accountable for their pollution and actions, are where it all starts. We make up the whole, after all.

We live in a time when there is like a knee-jerk reaction to look up – up the ladder. We look to the big bodies to fix things or to stop things. It’s up to the government to shift it or this business or that organization. We are angry at Facebook for stealing our data, yet millions continue to use it and hand over our data each day. We want them to change, instead of taking a different approach to realize that each one of us makes up the We and we are a part of the Them.

It is disheartening that so many people are choosing rampant consumption rather than look at the impact of our human actions. I scream inside every time I read the statistic that Americans make up 5% of the world’s population but consume 24% of the world’s energy. I cannot change the minds of my fellow Americans. I can’t shake them until they see the destruction their consumption is causing and will continue to cause for eons. I can only change my actions.

 For too long we have chosen comfort over aligned sustainable action. I read statistics and I cry and cringe – about plastic pollution, which I wrote about the other day, and studies that say that all of the subjects tested had phthalates in their urine – phthalates that disrupt hormones, neuropathways, cause cancer, and more – and that these are in plastics which are passed around haphazardly (would you like paper or plastic?) and wrapping most of the consumer goods that we buy. I realize that this stuff is taking us over, we don’t know the side effects of it long term, and what we do know is horrific. We’re basically swimming in a sea of hormone shifting plastic, but this is an article I will write for another time.

You may ask why I continue to study these things if they make me scream, cry and cringe. I keep reading because I want to know where we’re at. I want to take an honest look at the state of things and act accordingly. My soul cannot live on this earth and just act like life is going on as normal because it’s not. We aren’t our parent’s generation or their parents who had an American Dream that didn’t already have a bazillion holes poked in it. Unlike them, because of the internet we can see the devastation our actions are causing world round. The American Dream is not a dream everyone can realize – on the way to every human getting it, resources would be long gone and the earth a catastrophic wasteland.

I’m here for a reason and that reason isn’t to blindly consume and make money at a job that contributes to the devastation of the earth. I am here to be an earth warrior, not a blind consumer.

How can I enjoy myself when I know that on Navajo reservations that have reaped the negative impacts of having coal plants and mines on their land (tapping already low aquifers, being one impact) thousands of families still don’t have running water or electricity in their homes. How can I live a comfortable life on the back of that inadvertent sacrifice the Navajo people have been forced to make? I don’t see the chasm between their experience and mine.

It is not out of sight out of mind for me, which is why we decided to make our homestead off grid and solar powered (yes I know solar power isn’t perfect and has its fair share of environmental harm.) But you see, that’s the catch 22 I mentioned at the beginning of this article. We cause harm while living within this system. As much as I’ve tried to divest from it in so many ways through growing my own food, building our buildings ourselves with as many natural materials sourced as locally as possible (because the modern building industry is a nasty unexamined business as well), heat with wood sustainably harvested from our forest, and chosen a life of voluntary simplicity thrifting or buying second hand most things, I am still a part of it. Yet that’s not a reason to call me a hypocrite or others like me, for example.

It is my sensitivity which causes me to heed the results of my actions and which inhibits me from living blindly.

While living within a destructive system, until the system is dismantled and rebuilt block by block, we cause harm as we seek to shift things. It’s inevitable. It doesn’t mean I should stop fighting for principles I believe in and living it out to the best of my ability, and it doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t, that we shouldn’t start where we are and still speak about how we wish things could be.

If I light a vision in you, you carry that vision now and it evolves and morphs inside of your being in a unique way that only your life experiences and soul can make it. It manifests in a unique way through you. Never stop dreaming and never stop believing that the seeds of dreams within your person aren’t the exact things the world needs to hear from you! Imagine if our great visionaries stopped before they started – if Paul Stamets became discouraged and never carried on his research into the potentials of mushrooms. The world would never be blessed with the fruits of his vision. I believe the same goes for all of us.

The world has enough of the old curmudgeons who have fit their lives to go along with the status quo and who will shoot down every dream you have before it makes its way off the ground. While they may have some wisdom about how the current system works, that’s not the only information we’re interested in. Yes, it’s helpful to understand the current system so we know how to change it, but revolutions happen and will continue happening. I believe our age is ripe for an evolution of that sort.

My age group isn’t having children because we don’t see much hope for the future and we’ve heard statistics about overpopulation our entire lives. How can we add to this mess of humans taking over the earth? These are seeds planted in us and in a myriad of ways they are finding fertile soil, abundant water and sunshine and they’re making their way to the light of day. Perhaps in the end, human action and greed will cause a mass scale die off of all life on this planet. Yet where I stand, I cannot know how this will pan out and I am a hell of a lot more satisfied living out the passions and dreams which make life worth living than defeatedly following along with the status quo. How does it line go?

Hold fast to dreams 

For if dreams die Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly. 

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field Frozen with snow.

Langston Hughes
(source)

2019 Interns at Mountain Jewel Permaculture Homestead: The Details

Homestead, naturalmedicine, permaculture
  • Natural Building
  • Permaculture/Holistic Living
  • Perennial Agriculture/Food Forests

Mountain Jewel is a permaculture homestead in the heart of the Ozarks. Located 15 minutes outside of Gainesville, Missouri on 18 acres, we focus on perennial agriculture, Herbalism, natural building and bioregional living. As a Center for Earth Connection, we seek to observe and align with natural rhythms, making sustainable use of the resources around us while honoring and getting to know the wilds.

At a 2019 internship at Mountain Jewel, there will be a heavy focus on Natural Building as we are building a Passive Solar Post & Beam Straw Bale Infill house!

We also will be tending and expanding perennial gardens and food forests which includes sharing host of practical skills & information on edible landscaping and useful Permaculture & medicinal plants. We currently have 2.5 acres of Food forests, 2 high tunnels, and .5 acre of intensive perennial and annual garden production. Mountain Jewel is completely off grid (save propane used for cooking) using Solar Power and our water comes from a 250 ft well on the property (soon to include more rainwater harvesting as well.)

Garlic harvest

What can an intern expect?

As in intern you will have an amazing opportunity to engage in the intimate process of building a natural home & creating and tending food forests.

You will learn mostly by doing, although there will also be some structured “classroom” time. The process is messy at times, involves plenty of consideration and creativity and a lot of physical labor, which can be taxing emotionally as well (especially in the beginning as you familiarize yourself to new surroundings and experiences.)

Through hands-on skill building in a variety of natural building methods and Permaculture principles, you can expect to receive a good introduction to a wide range of practical topics.

Throughout the season we will be going working on different aspects of the build. Starting with site prep and foundation, we will continue with framing, roofing, raising straw bale walls, plastering, laying floors, plumbing, wiring solar systems, plumbing solar hot water, building a rocket mass heater, etc…

In addition to the building, we also tend annual & perennial gardens, high tunnels and food forests, which account for much of our diet. Other opportunities for learning may include rain-water catchment and irrigation systems, grafting, layering and other propagation methods, seeding, general gardening tasks, pruning, fertilizing and more.

On top of this, there is also the reality that you will become an integral part of an organic Permaculture homestead in the country.

Early summer garden

 With 3 acres of our land open for food forests, high tunnels, outbuildings and gardens, the rest of the land (15 acres) is mature forest which has choice wild edibles and provides respite, recreation and beauty throughout the year (and ticks during the warm months!). Some of our diet is also obtained through foraging and wildcrafting and you are welcome and encouraged to join us in our wild forays where we teach ethical, safe and sustainable harvesting methods.

Wren making a cleaver’s tincture

As we ask for your help 5 out of the 7 days of the week (not necessarily Mon-Fri), this also leaves 2 days a week for rest and exploration of the surrounding areas, much of which is the Mark Twain Natural Forest and includes stellar waterways like Bryant Creek and the Norfork, a world class destination. Our property has a creek of its own and we take dips down there often!

Our western edge

What do we expect?

In opening up our homestead to interns we are seeking to share our experience in hopes of equipping, inspiring and empowering others to participate in meaningful practical ecological ways of living.

Mountain Jewel is foremost a Center for Earth connection and we provide an holistic haven and skill building opportunity for modern humans to reconnect with that which is essential, Nature. Our homestead is dedicated to living in alignment with these natural rhythms and it is these skills we want to pass on.

We foster a culture of respect from ALL participants including ourselves, each other, the wild, the site and the process of learning. This means respecting boundaries, personal space and guidelines we outline as a collective (depending on expressed & present needs.)

Sunset on Ozark Mountains surrounding our homestead

We encourage applicants who are engaged, interested, motivated, self directed, passionate and ready to learn. We see this internship as a relationship between you and us, other interns, the process itself, and most importantly, the land. At Mountain Jewel, interns are crucial members of the team and as such we ask that interns take active interest and initiative to facilitate their learning process, express their needs and desires, and support the collective.

This internship will require a lot of physical work and we want you to know that ahead of time. If the workload is ever too much, please express this to you as we seek to create a healthy work culture. During work hours, we invite your full presence and participation.

Mountain Jewel inspired art by https://lauraleesart.com/

What time frame?

We would prefer interns to stay from 1-3+ months as we feel this gives a richer depth of experience. It takes time to build relationships to place, process and people, as well as taking into account the skill building process. Seeing the building and gardening process through time is a much more grounded way to build skills and experiences. As we are a family run homestead, we are open to various possibilities and opportunities, and if a situation isn’t working for either party that will be discussed.  In these cases, if possible, we practice the Art of Council communication technique to gain clarity and hopefully resolution before going our separate ways. We are all here to learn from and with one another and see these connections as  opportunities to do just this. We have a no tolerance policy for any forms of abuse and will not tolerate drug use.

For all potential interns there will be a 2-week trial period to see if the experience is a good fit for all. It will include orientation, training, check-ins and some hands-on tasks. At the end of this, there will be a process where we clarify next steps and make sure all parties are on board. It is our goal to hold space for interns to have a great experience learning more about themselves, the earth and all that we have to share on this homestead.

Lodging and Food

Lodging

Lodging at Mountain Jewel is simple and rustic. We cannot offer any indoor lodging during the summer months, but offer shaded tent platforms in the woods, running water and a covered outdoor kitchen space for simple food preparation (including a double burner propane range, large sink, shelves, food storage, counter space and table.) While we have a couple extra tents we can loan out, we encourage you to bring a tent that will be your shelter, a sleeping pad or mattress, hammock (with mosquito netting and a tarp) and/or build a shelter (if you know how to adequately do this) once you reach the land.

We live close to nature and ticks, spiders, and other insects inhabit our space with us and the transition to such a lifestyle can take some getting used to. Come mentally prepared and see it as an opportunity to challenge yourself and strip off layers of modern conditioning. It gets hot in the summer and at times this can be oppressive, but we balance this with early morning starts, frequent creek dips, and midday siestas. As mentioned, we do have a creek on the property and this aids a lot in our self care.

Food

Many but not all meals will be shared, and we expect interns to be able take part in food preparation on a rotating schedule. We have yet to work out details, but what has worked best in our experiences has been setting up basic meal plans and going through a rotation where each team member takes their turn in preparation of meals based on what’s seasonally available.

We will offer simple whole foods and seek to eat a balanced diet. We strive for sourcing 100% organic food where we can’t meet these needs ourselves. We eat meat occasionally (wild and locally grass fed from a nearby farms), eggs (don’t have chickens anymore but will source locally) and may source local dairy (depending on refrigeration options at the time). 

During the summer, we will have abundant greens and other produce as well as fruits grown on our homestead. Sometimes we fish and often we go mushroom hunting. We buy bulk grains, beans, oil and other staples.  

*SORRY, but we may not be able to accommodate certain special diets or allergies. Contact us if this is a concern.

As this is a work exchange there will be no stipend offered. In exchange for 6 hours of work a day 5 days a week, you will have access to bulk food staples, fresh garden produce, one healthy shared group meal a day.

Shiitakes we grew on oak logs

Transportation

A personal vehicle is recommended but not necessary. We are located 1.5 hours from Springfield, MO, 45 minutes from West Plains, MO, Ava, MO and Mountain Home, AR and frequent these cities biweekly for bulk food runs at the health food stores and other sundries (these towns have a lot of options.) We live 15 minutes from the very small town of Gainesville which has basic amenities (post office, small conventional grocery, library, and gas stations, etc.) You are welcome to come along for these journeys.

Ini with a harvest of wild Paw Paws

To Apply

Answer the following questions and send us at least 500 words to mountainjewelbotanicals@gmail.com on why you want to do this and your current related knowledge and experience (it’s fine if you have no experience). Tell us a bit about yourself. You can share blogs, social media sites, etc.

Name, Age, Current location, time availability and desired length of stay, special needs/allergies/other considerations, do you have your own camping gear, vehicle or pets, one thing that scares you about this and one thing that excites you, what you’re hoping to get out of it and what aspects you’re most looking forward to. We look forward to hearing from you!

You can learn more about us at Mountain Jewel by checking out our blog at https://steempeak.com/@mountainjewel or http://instagram.com/mountainjewel

Why We’ve Chosen Perennial Agriculture

Uncategorized

Why Perennial Agriculture?


You hear us talk about perennials, edible landscapes and food forests a lot. Why have we chosen to focus on perennial agriculture? Through this missive I hope to clarify our motivations. 

Wren at a more mature food forest at Florida Gulf Coast University


First some backstory: 


Ini and I both spent countless hours working on organic farms specializing in annual production before ever seeing a perennial model. It’s important to make this point that it is our experiences with annual agriculture, not only the philosophies surrounding the practice of perennial agriculture, which, in a way, made this decision for us. 
Before I had ever heard the word Permaculture, I was working on organic farms and gardens with plants most people are familiar with- your basic veggies and herbs. A smattering of raspberries, asparagus, and perennial herbs were all I had seen of *plants that return* while I was getting my primary education in growing food. 

Ini with a bok choi seedling


It wasn’t until, after years of back-tiring work I started to get deeper into Permaculture, edible landscapes and food forestry, yet when I started to catch wind of the philosophy I was pretty sure there was no going back. 
Annual gardening has a lot of great things going for it and a capitalistic based production farm is drawn to many of its benefits. For example, in a short amount of time you can boast high yields and delicious well-known crops (that the consumer base already knows about). There isn’t the need to wait years for something you’ve put in the ground to yield, as is the case with perennial agriculture. This model of quick returns fits right in with the need of the consumer. What would an organic farm sell at market in the interim of planting a tree and when it finally bears fruit? With only so much time and energy on a farm (from a human perspective), annual organic gardening is already a lot to bite off – let alone incorporating a perennial vision into the mix. 


As we worked on farms and our backs became more and more tired and we realized the futility of only thinking about the current season (in terms of crop yields – not in terms of soil necessarily as many organic farms take very good care of their soil for long term gain). I worked on one farm that had rows of perennial food crops (like asparagus, strawberries, raspberries, sage and more) that they took to market alongside their annual produce. They talked frequently about upping the perennial production for all that it required per year was perhaps a bit of weeding, some more mulch, perhaps some amendments and a drip irrigation. 


There was no seed starting (including trays, potting mix, the time it takes to tend, etc), up-potting the seedlings into larger trays as they grow, plant loss that occurs with young plants (in relation to established plants), soil prep, etc. In fact, there were greater yields each year for less and less work. This seemed like a gardener’s dream. Yes there was a lag time between the sowing and harvest, but, all things considered, it seemed worth the wait. 
With this vision in mind, and as our journeys started to join in a united vision, Ini and I visited more perennial edible landscapes and we read any books/articles we could about food forestry, perennial agriculture and lesser known perennial food crops. When we met both of us had come to this vision and as our dreams started unfolding into the present lived reality, it seemed clear what we would do: It was time to ground our visions and start creating perennial edible landscapes. 

Perennials like blueberries get more vigorous and yield more with each year of care.


Why Perennial Edible Landscapes

As mentioned above, we already had extensive experience growing annual food crops – and I predict that we will always take part in this to an extent. However, the perennial vision is the one which propels most of our actions and keeps us up late at night making excited exclamations over new crop discoveries that will do well in our area. 


Perennial Edible Landscapes In Comparison with Annual Agriculture


– Perennial Agriculture doesn’t disturb the soil leaving the soil food web and biome of the soil in tact. 

This has many benefits, but primarily (as many also tote in annual no til gardening), not disturbing the soil reduces erosion, allows the diverse biota of the soil to continue in its strong web formation, doesn’t flip top soil beneath subsoil, and doesn’t kill countless creatures existing in the soil (which are beneficial to the soil as they decompose, aerate, poop, feed on one another creating biomass and keep balance in their micro-ecosystem). When left in tact, healthy communities form and strengthen in their diversity and they balance and stabilize. Though annual tilling produces greater yields in early years, one is essentially continually disturbing these fragile but useful communities of soil microorganisms that help us grow healthier plants. 

Growing annuals in a diverse manner and in conjunction with perennials makes for a healthy ecosystem. Purple pole beans with zinnias, butterflies and amaranth with a purslane, goldenberry, and holy basil ground cover.


– Perennial Agriculture is Nature’s Way: Creating Balanced, Perpetual Ecosystems

Permaculture seeks to align human relations with the earth by observing what the earth is already doing. By aligning – not dominating, overworking, exploiting or putting our ideas onto – we can reap much greater yields than if we work against the way of nature.

I think this point is best demonstrated through an example. When you create a garden, tilling and baring the soil, what happens alongside the crops that you grow? Weeds come up, right? Opportunistic, often edible or even medicinal, plants. You’ll have then growing taller than your crops if you’re not careful! And if you leave your garden unweeded, un-mulched and untended, they’ll take over your garden forming a large, nearly unpenetrable mat. In reality, the soil abhors a void and covers itself. These plants draw up nutrients from deep in the earth and decompose aiding the soil and they also stop erosion from happening. After time, if you let these plants grow, pioneer species will also come in – these are the shrubs and brush, scrubby opportunistic un-picky plants that are very adaptable. You’ll also see hedges of these on the edges of farm fields and forests all over. They are the transition plants.

After this, trees will pop up and vines and what was once barren soil no longer resembles a scrubby, brushy field. But you’ll notice, nary a space is left from what you had initially cleared. Nature is progressing toward stability, which is often (depending on the climate/habitat/water availability/etc) a forest with all of its many layers. By planting food forests, with edible ground cover, shrub layer, midstory, vining and canopy species, we are actually taking part in creating an ecosystem that nature finds very stable. We are simply selecting which plants go into nature’s algorithm. Unlike annual agriculture, we wont need to dig up, replace, seed start and continually work the soil. Instead, with each year, this ecosystem comes into its own and matures, producing more yields with each year and remaining very stable. 


– Easier on the Back 

Although there are undoubtedly greater initial yields with annual cropping, over time perennial food systems yield just as much, if not more harvests with less overall work. As I worked on farms during the summer seasons, at times 8 hours a day nearly every day of the week, my back was the first thing to speak up. It hurt! Often! One farm I worked at was an organic farm of about 8 acres that had a CSA and also went to a weekly market. We produced a lot of food for our local community, but the farm was often understaffed and it had trouble making ends meet – even though we were working as hard as we could and producing as much food as the land would allow in any given season. This added to the back pain – knowing that we would need to struggle at this again the next year, while we heard our efforts literally weren’t paying off to make the farm a sustainable operation. This isn’t an isolated story- many farms struggle to “make it” economically even though they’re producing as much as they can and providing a very needed service for their communities! (Could write an entire article on this alone!) When my back really started to hurt from all of the bending over and hard physical labor, I started to seriously consider other options – options that could be sustainable in terms of my back, labor, money and for the land. 


– Greater Yields, Less Work

Perennial agriculture is a waiting game. Yet, after that waiting game is over, the yields are tremendous and longevous! A farmer knows well that what you reap is what you sow, but there is no harm in extending this cycle. In fact, after the initial work of clearing the land for planting, preparing soil, planting, watering, mulching, the work load drops off tremendously.

Ini “chop and dropping” a nitrogen fixing ground cover of clover beneath a Paw Paw

There is a comparable initial input of time and labor and yet, with a little tending each year, the benefits continue coming with hardly any work! This is not so in annual gardening when, after each season, usually one just has to contend with equal work loads of the previous year, slightly more depleted soil, tons of beat up used seedling trays, piles of disorganized crop covers, and perhaps even long sheets of ragged plastics used to suppress weeds. In comparison, a food forest just keeps getting better each year! When done right (and by this I mean planted after observing your locale for quite some time with good spacing, tended with good watering and much mulch -for weed suppression, water retention and encouragement of healthy soil microorganisms), food forests will take care of you for many years to come! 

Ini with the perennial wild harvest of Paw Paws, North America’s largest native tropicalesque fruit.


– Fun to plant and tend 

This is the step we’re in right now at Mountain Jewel. By getting a grant through EQIP to plant fruit and nut trees, we’ve been able to get off to a great start in actualizing our perennial agriculture dreams! We’ve bought hundreds of trees, shrubs, rhizomes, tubers, herbs and more and planted them acres around the property. The initial clearing (of scrub land, basically) is the hardest work. Fires, rakes, a grub hoe, a chainsaw, and a lot of sweat are our main tools. After that, the design and planting is fun! We are careful to heavily cardboard and mulch (to suppress weeds and retain moisture) initially and after that we are given the task of waiting and tending until things start to bear fruit!

Comfrey

Some plants, like comfrey, which is a chop and drop medicinal mulch plant par excellent!, we keep dividing and spreading all throughout the understory. Other plants, like thornless blackberries, vigorously replicate themselves (which accounts for our many plants we have for sale at the Homesteader’s Coop!). And many other plants, like many of our standard fruit trees, have yet to really make a peep. These plants take longer to bear, to really rev up per say, but once they get going they produce quantities beyond what any annual crop can! It’s a long term vision. 


– Diversity Rules the Day

One of annual agricultures greatest faults is its susceptibility. It’s only natural as it’s going against the way of nature. Humans have tried to curtail this basic law by creating a massive warlike business of -cides (herbicide, pesticide, etc), but the fact remains that annual monocrops (one crop in an area instead of a diverse array) are more susceptible to disease and pests than a diverse ecosystem. Why is that? If you only have one crop in an entire field and a predator insect comes, they’ll wipe out your entire crop. The more variety of crops you have, the more resilience you have against pests coming and destroying it all. In a perennial ecosystem, we strive to up the diversity tremendous proportions and include guardian plants, like many in the allium family (garlic, onion, etc) that confuse predators and slow them down and even avert (in the case of marigolds) them from their mission. Annual agriculture can also employ these techniques, but often it is far easier to mass produce (which is what modern agriculture focuses on) anything of a diverse nature, as different plants need different things. Many smaller organic farms do employ these techniques and that is one of the ways we can help strengthen our human chosen edible agricultures and not use pesticides or herbicides simply to grow food! Always buy organic (if your budget allows) for many reasons – this being a major one. 


– Growing the Soil with Ease

In annual agriculture, the soil often takes a hit. Plants are grown in it each season and, as they extract valuable minerals and nutrients and go off to market, leave the soil depleted. Many organic farms do an excellent job of building and maintaining, or even boosting their soil quality, yet it often takes expensive, non locally sourced and timely to apply inputs to do the job. In contrast, with all of the cover crops (which annual farms also employ) and mulch that we apply onto our soils, over time we end up with really nice top soil! Again, it takes time to decompose and we still may add amendments at times, but the need is far less than in an annual model. 


Time, Necessity, & “The Way Things Are” as Main Factors


I could go on in sharing some of the reasons we chose to focus on perennial agriculture and I’m sure I’ll think of many other reasons and may do a Part 2, but, in closing, I want to speak to the inhibitory factors against perennial landscapes that keep many farms, homesteads, gardens and, indeed, humans from adopting these methods. First, I think many people simply don’t know about the breadth and scope of their option to produce copious amounts of food through perennial edible landscaping. Partly I am writing this article to get the beneficial word out there so more people can adopt perennial styles!

Groundnut or Apios americana, a perennial native tuber that’s been cultivated over the years for size and taste. Quite tasty and fixes nitrogen too!

Secondly, we are often addicted to “The Way Things Are” as humans and unfamiliar (or lack of familiar) crops often take time to be accepted. One lady in our local area, in response to talk of setting up a vegetable market in our local town, humorously said, “We likely wont eat those veggies for if our grandmothers didn’t eat it, we wont either!” It’s human nature to eat like our parents did, although there is increasingly a lot of deconstructing of dietary choices going on and I hope this lends itself to opening the mind towards a perennial shift. And as I said, I’m not advocating a complete doing away with of common annual vegetables (we still have an extensive annual garden), but into shifting the focus, or even 3/4 of the land use to perennial agriculture.


Necessity is another huge inhibitory factor against perennial agriculture. When we first moved to the homestead, we planted crops that would yield quickly for us as we needed food Now! (Yes, we still go to the grocery, but set ourselves to try to grow us much as we could ourselves.) Many perhaps don’t have the luxury of embellishing a long term fruition as they need food now to survive. However, I would encourage anyone in this position to consider putting aside some effort and space for perennial agriculture and look at it as an investment for your future. Even one tree, shrub or variety of tuber a year adds up over time and while you’re busy with the annual garden, it sure will be nice when that apple tree finally blooms!

Garlic is an annual crop that I think we’ll always grow! Medicinal, Delicious and Easy.


This brings me to my last point, which ties right in there with necessity: Time – many say they don’t have enough of it, but it’s all in how we sculpt our days. For me, the waiting game of perennial landscapes is just a part of it. We have planted hundreds of plants that we haven’t gotten anything from yet– and that may truly be too much for some people. Yet again, consider it an investment for your — or your kids or grandkids future. Every perennial plant that you put in the ground is sure to increase in yields with every year with a little care and tending. If we do this and take a slow and steady approach, we will soon be very grateful for the actions of our past selves and have lots to share with others. 

In the meantime, we also have lots we can mindfully harvest from the wild!

New Homestead Product! St John’s Wort/Hypericum Oil

Uncategorized

We have missed each of you! As I sat (I went back to serve a Vipassana course) during a meditation session, sometimes my mind would wander to the herbal realm where I envisioned homestead offerings I would like to share this year. This product I am sharing today was something that I put into motion around the summer solstice, as this is the time of year that this plant shines!

You may even remember my post about it:

DIY Herbal Medicine: St John’s Wort Oil (Vlog & Photos)

Even taking a glance at this post reminds me of the bright medicine that midsummer holds, and especially how lovely it is to take a deep (energetic) whiff of it during winter! Encapsulating the suns energy through making herbal medicine at this time is a treat for our future selves.

I finally went about making a label for this product. I kept it quite simple:

Made using onlinelabels.com design software.

And now I am ready to offer this amazing product!

What is Hypericum Oil?

According to many sources, hypericum oil has been used for a long time. It’s one of the medicines lauded from the beginning of herbal records. In fact, people respected it so much that it was said to repel evil spirits (perhaps today interpreted as its antiviral and antibacterial properties) and depressions of all types.

Used internally it is well known these days for a natural antidepressant. I experimented with this in Autumn and was pleased to be able to concur as its gentle healing properties became known to me almost immediately!

The herbal oil, used topically, however, brings another aspect of this magical plant’s potency: wound healing. Whether a burn, a wound, old or new scar tissue, inflammation from inflamed sciatic or other nerve troubles, sore muscles after a hard day’s work, arthritis, St John’s Wort oil (long known as Hypericum oil – scientific name Hypericum perforatum) is your ticket!

Simply massage some of this amazing herbal oil into your skin and truly the effects make themselves known quite quickly. I’ve never had nerve pain, but I do know a thing or two about tired and sore muscles and I find quick relief after rubbing some on (or having Ini do it.)

Homesteader’s Coop

We’ve decided to offer this exclusively at the @homesteaderscoop to start because we love this community and thing it’s an amazing development. It’s an ethical, sustainable, verifiable business model initiated and developed by some truly inspirational and quality people. Not to mention, it’s a coop that doesn’t take any cut from the vendors or buyers! Using Steem blockchain as its revenue generator (through posts and delegations), we are able to try our hand at being a part of a collective and truly sustainable business.

I only have a handful of this product for sale so get one if you find yourself drawn to its longstanding healing nature and a little dose of peak Sunshine from the time of the solstice!